Clean technology: since the 1960s, a vital bedrock Ontario—and Canadian—industry

A Toronto Star piece this morning on “clean tech” jobs jumped out at me when a colleague sent it. The subtitle reads “Clean technology industry, undercut by Dalton McGuinty’s bungled green energy experiment, is poised to take off.” I did a double take. I’m just not used to seeing articles in Canada’s biggest newspaper—and most vocal mainstream media supporter of the policies of the last decade—criticizing a major element of those policies.

I agree totally that Ontario’s green energy experiment undercut its clean technology industry. However, the industry is actually not defined at all in the article, or, to be fair, by most people who use the phrase “clean tech.” I wonder if the author’s definition of clean tech includes the strongest and most obvious component of the actual clean technology industry, the one that exists right now in Ontario, and the one that literally makes the province run every minute of every day and has been doing so since the 1970s: nuclear energy.

Today’s Star article sings the praises of the “clean tech” sector, but does not define clean tech. I hereby offer a definition of clean tech. Clean Tech should be defined as a technology that produces significant amounts of clean energy. Nuclear does this today—is actually doing this as I write.

Ontario as a jurisdiction has over the past decade achieved a stunning reduction in the carbon content of its electricity. This has translated into an even more stunning reduction in the overall carbon pollution emissions from the provincial electricity sector. As I have pointed out in previous posts, we have, since the year 2000, cut our annual electricity generation carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by nearly 30 million tons. No other jurisdiction in North America, or, from what I can tell, across the OECD, has achieved anything close to this.

This stunning CO2 reduction was achieved because Ontario returned six nuclear-powered electricity generators to service in the years from 2003 to 2012. Those six were, in chronological order:

  1. Pickering 4, a full refurbishment, returned to service in September 2003.
  2. Bruce unit 4; returned to service in December 2003.
  3. Bruce 3; returned to service in January 2004.
  4. Pickering unit 1, a full refurbishment; returned to service in November 2005.
  5. Bruce unit 1, a full refurbishment; returned to service in 2012.
  6. Bruce unit 2, full refurbishment began in 2007; returned to service in 2012.

The return of these six units is THE reason Ontario cut its electricity-sector CO2 emissions by nearly 30 million tons. They, and the other 12 nuclear reactors connected to the Ontario grid, are why Ontario has a major clean tech sector. They are the backbone of that sector, and its most valuable component.

These returns-to-service did not just happen with a snap of the fingers. Even the non-refurbishment projects listed above, Bruce units 3 and 4, were complex and involved. But the refurbishments of Pickering units 4 and 1 and Bruce units 1 and 2 were major infrastructure projects. They involved many thousands of workers, performing thousands of very skilled and complex tasks. They were extremely capital intensive, involving billions of dollars. And since they took place before, during, and after the Great Recession of 2008, they represented a huge economic boost not just to the communities in which they took place (mostly in the area between Oshawa and Toronto and the Bruce Peninsula) but to the province, and the country.

Today’s Star article sings the praises of the “clean tech” sector, but does not define clean tech. I hereby offer a definition of clean tech. Clean Tech should be defined as a technology that produces significant amounts of clean energy. Nuclear does this today—is actually doing this as I write. Have a look at Tables 1 and 2: they show Ontario electrical grid output in the last hour and so far today, respectively. They also add a CO2 dimension to this ouput, showing the CO2 content of the power that is produced in each of the seven major “fuel” categories.

[NOTE: previous versions of Tables 1 and 2 listed six, not seven, fuel categories. The six-fuel taxonomy reflected that of the IESO, which publishes the hourly generator output data. However, I have never been perfectly comfortable with the IESO’s classification of the Lennox generating station as “Other”; it is a duel-fuel oil and gas facility, while the other stations in the Other category run on wood waste. I have therefore created a seventh fuel category, Oil & Gas, to represent Lennox’s output.]

As you can see, nuclear is by far the biggest source of electricity in this province. And it comes with zero CO2 emissions. That makes it clean tech, hands down. And because of the sheer amount of energy, and the sheer lack of CO2 coming with all that energy, nuclear is, hands down, the cleanest tech.

I attended the annual Canadian Nuclear Association conference and trade show at the end of February. The show was packed, as were all the talks and side events. Why was this? Because this is a major strategic sector in Canada. The nuclear industry directly employs more than 30,000 people. The upcoming refurbishments at the Darlington and Bruce B plants are expected to add 12,000 more direct jobs.

If that comes to pass, then for the period of the refurbishments, the Canadian nuclear industry will directly employ 42,000 people. Those are real green jobs, and they are economically sustainable.

2 comments for “Clean technology: since the 1960s, a vital bedrock Ontario—and Canadian—industry

  1. March 10, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    it is a duel-fuel oil and gas facility

    They turn and fire at ten paces, and the bullets spin the turbines?

    Never mind me, just having my own personal smirk-a-thon today.

    • March 10, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      good one. Can’t believe I wrote that. I’ll leave it as-is, for the benefit of others who might labour under the dual illusion that my wordsmithing is perfect and that you have no sense of humour.

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